McLennan Family Roots JS The Business Man Years at Petersfield Pre-War Years War Years Louisbourg Other Accomplishments Other McLennans
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Other Accomplishments

The McLennans during all this time were not solely involved with Louisbourg. JS had his work as a Senator and Katharine spent time both traveling extensively and working in her community. Their lives were not, however, completely filled with selfless acts of charity and sober reflections on Canada's past and future. JS and Katharine had their share of both carefree fun and moments of repose.

In JS's later years as a Senator, he spent his time between Petersfield and Ottawa for the most part, but he would still travel frequently. JS often visited his son, John Jr. in New York, where he was studying music and composition. He greatly appreciated the sophistication of the city and enjoyed the art galleries and architecture. JS, however, was not much given to the appreciation of music and that was ironic as it became his son's profession. JS was fond of saying to his son, "Well, you know my dear boy, very little music goes a long way, doesn't it." It is said that JS's favorite piece of music was the opera "Louise" both because it had his first wife's name in the title and because it was rather short. JS was, however, terribly proud of his son's accomplishments as a composer and pianist. John S. Jr. gave a piano recital in Sydney in 1936 that was attended by JS and a crowd, his son jokingly believed, who were there solely out of respect for the Senator.

Taken in JS's later years, this dignified profile of JS shows him in his customary businessman's suit and tie.

As JS became more frail, a nurse was hired to accompany him. She faithfully went with JS to Ottawa and to all his social functions and tended him around the clock at Petersfield. John S. Jr. recalls Miss Mooney's graciousness and the ease with which she handled her sometimes cantankerous patient. It seems that beneath his dignified and benevolent nature, JS possessed a sharp temper when it came to small annoyances. As a Senator, JS was praised for his calm and thoughtfulness, but at home, if something belonging to him went astray, JS could verge on being petulant. These rare bursts of an old man's anger were tempered by his normal state of contented repose and relaxed demeanor.

JS's favorite hobby was reading. Quiet moments would often find JS reading or playing a game of Patience with Katharine. JS enjoyed both fiction and nonfiction and if his conservatism was at all flexible, it was in his choice of literature which could include novels by authors such as Dashiell Hammet. Yet, for the most part, JS remained traditional and conservative in his tastes and opinions. This does not mean that JS was a prude. John S. Jr. recalls that his father still had an appreciation for a "nicely turned out" woman well into his 70's.

At Petersfield, JS maintained a ritual when it concerned his daily habits. Coming downstairs at around 10:30 a.m., JS would request to be driven into town to the newspaper. Here he would visit with his staff while John S. Jr. or Katharine ran errands. Back at home, JS would have one martini before lunch and again before supper, dutifully stirred by Katharine. At lunch, he had a tiny bit of scotch whiskey in a very tall glass of water. In the afternoon he would normally nap or read. During supper, JS enjoyed a fine dinner wine and after, a glass of champagne. To hear John S. Jr. speak of his father, one gets the delightful picture of a very dignified and gracious man given to moments of wry humour. One story about JS told by his son is a perfect example of JS's wit. The year was probably 1937 and JS was attending a session in the Senate. His son had been allowed to sit in on the meeting, which even JS said would be terribly dull. During the session, JS began to nod off. A colleague had been reading a paper and without looking up said, "What do you think, John?" JS woke up instantly and realized he had missed what was going on. Without hesitation, JS replied, "Gentlemen, let us not split hairs." His son treasured this as one of his most enjoyable memories of his father.

JS was recognized as a fine scholar and his work on Louisbourg was highly respected. On May 29, 1923, he was the recipient of an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from McGill University. In addition to this achievement, JS was also granted fellowships in the Royal Society of Canada and the Royal Historical Society of Canada. He was a member of the Boston Tavern Club, an association of people of accomplishment, and of the Champlain Society. As a Senator, JS was responsible for the writing of several government reports, one important one being "The Machinery of Government" (1919).

When JS was in his 70s, he was given the opportunity to lecture for his good friend, Dr. JC Webster, at Mount Allison University. This fulfilled a lifelong wish of JS, who had always had an academic mind and might have become a professor if he had not been called to his family's business interests. The title of his lecture was "History and Present Problems" and dealt with the issues of sovereignty and economic independence for the smaller nations after World War One. JS contended that the shaping of the future depended on an understanding of the past. He thought that the League of Nations' only chance for success would be if they understood the causes of the war and the opposing forces could resolve their disagreements through negotiation. JS hoped that a new era of openness would prevail, that secret negotiations would end, and that the international community would be made aware of a nation's intentions before disagreements turned violent.

JS's lectures revealed that he was knowledgeable in many areas of history and political thinking. His areas of interest were not, however, limited to political theorizing. JS also lectured in Sydney, Halifax, and Montreal on Italian art and, of course, on Louisbourg.

Though JS's mind remained sharp until the end of his life, his body became increasingly incapable of much exertion. In 1935, they installed elevators in Petersfield so JS could more easily get upstairs. When war was declared in September of 1939, JS and Miss Mooney left for Ottawa on September 3 to attend an emergency session of Parliament. In Ottawa, the 86 year old Senator contracted pneumonia and Katharine left Petersfield on the fifteenth to be with her father. She drove all night to catch the train at Truro, but there she read in the paper that her father had died early that morning. She continued on to Ottawa where his funeral service was held at the Church of St. Andrew and St. Paul. Katharine left Ottawa with her father's ashes and a memorial service was held at Christ Church in Sydney on the twenty-second of September.
The McLennan family plot is located at Hardwood Hill Cemetary, Sydney.

The Senator's death was a great loss to his family and the Cape Breton community. This obituary in the Sydney Post-Record on September 16, 1939, eloquently expresses this sentiment:

There was not, up to the time of his death, and probably never had been during the thirty-five years he was President of the Post-Record and its predecessors, an individual worker in any department of the business whom Senator McLennan did not know personally, nor in whose welfare he failed at any time to manifest a kindly and practically sympathetic interest. . . . It was one of the late Senator McLennan's highest ambitions to make his newspapers worthy exponents of the community life and to maintain them on lofty and creditable standards. As a citizen, he could always be relied upon to take his full share of the work involved in any forward movement, and to discharge it cheerfully and capably. As a public man he was, by general assent, one of the least selfish, ablest, and most valuable representative this province had in Canada's Senate.13

This obituary succinctly describes JS's accomplishments and his reputation in the community. He was deeply respected and admired and his death was indeed a loss, though his work remained as a testament to his great commitment and perseverance.

With her father gone, Katharine was left to manage the estate. Up to this point, her life had been filled with travel and the comforts of Petersfield along with her charitable work. As a young woman, Katharine had visited many of the sites of Europe. She had witnessed the funeral procession for King Edward VII; toured many fascinating areas, including Gibraltar, Algeciras, and Algiers; and had gone on many road trips both by herself and with friends. One of her more remarkable traveling experiences was her cross-Canada road trip with her English friend, Yvonne Fitz-Roy, in 1927. The two set out from Sydney on July 1, and arrived in British Columbia several months and many tire changes later. Her journal of this trip is filled with amusing stories of car trouble and descriptions of the characters the two encountered along the way. Her other journal, kept for upwards of thirty years, outlines her travels and work for each month of the year. From this we can get a sense of just how full and active her life was and how involved she was in her community projects.

JS had left Katharine a secure income and ownership of the Petersfield estate. She tried to maintain the home as it was in earlier times, but the structure often needed work. One day in January of 1941, Katharine saw men taking a survey of her land and the waterfront. Katharine discovered that the federal government planned to expropriate Petersfield for use as a naval base. If Great Britain had fallen during the war, the Royal Navy was prepared to make Sydney its temporary base, with Petersfield to serve as a residence for its officers. Unable to stop the government’s plans, Katharine was forced to pack up all her belongings and abandon the estate. For a time, Petersfield was used as a residence for Royal Navy officers and as a base for the Free French. After the war, Petersfield was of no further use to the government and the buildings were allowed to deteriorate to the point where they had to be destroyed. Even the oak tree was vandalized and had to be torn down. Katharine had moved her things into a house at 49 Whitney Avenue in Sydney. This would be her home until her death.

The problems of Petersfield did not totally absorb Katharine's attentions during these years. Her interest in the Girl Guide movement, which culminated in December of 1934 when she was named District Commissioner, continued with Guide rallies at Petersfield and then later at her summer home at Ben Eoin. Though she resigned from an official position with the Guides in November of 1937, her participation in rallies and fund-raisers continued.

Katharine was involved with the Victorian Order of Nurses with raising money and attending meetings of the VON. World War II saw her activities in the community increase with her involvement in the Red Cross and blood donor drives. While she continued to be involved with the Louisbourg Museum and the acquisition and arrangement of artifacts, Katharine also headed the blood drive in Sydney. The old Methodist Church, located on North Charlotte Street in Sydney, was used as the blood donor clinic site. She began traveling around the island to supervise other clinics. In October of 1943, Katharine visited a blood donor clinic in New York and gained ideas there to assist with organization of local clinics. Her contribution to the war effort saw her making up Prisoner of War parcels.

This certificate acknowledges Katharine's voluntary services at the Allies Hospital Yvetot. Katharine worked at the hospital from May 1916 to January 1917.

Katharine McLennan was involved in many community organizations. This document certifies Katharine's involvement with the Red Cross Society during World War II.

As the war ended, Katharine concentrated on fixing up her Ben Eoin summer home and meeting with the newly formed Music Club of Sydney. Katharine's work in the area was beginning to be officially recognized. In June of 1946, she was awarded the Red Cross Award of Merit for her years of service. She was asked to speak at Old Sydney Society meetings and prepared papers on many topics for the IODE and for readings at the local high school, Sydney Academy. Katharine had always been interested in photography and in her spare time she prepared slide shows of her travels for community groups. As a member of the Music Club she was made president of Community Concerts and in February of 1951, she was made secretary of the Victoria Order of Nurses local division.

Katharine began to have a series of health problems, mostly concerning her heart, and was told by doctors to take life more easily. Katharine did not heed their advice and continued to be actively involved with many projects and did not shy away from the rigors of traveling. She became involved with the newly planned James McConnell Memorial Library as a member of the Cape Breton Regional Library Board. She had been involved with the old Sydney Public Library, located in the basement of the Sydney courthouse. In 1958, she donated a great deal of her father's remaining books, (those that had not already been given to Dalhousie University), to the Sydney Library. A fire in 1959 destroyed both the courthouse and library and much of the collection was lost. Katharine tried to replace many of the rare and valuable manuscripts, but this was costly and many materials were unavailable at any price. With the plans in the works for a new public library, Katharine used her influence to get funding and was heavily involved in planning. Miss Mary Fraser, eventual Chief Librarian of the new library, recalls that Katharine had a great deal of say during the building of the library. It is no wonder that she would be a powerful voice as she had bought and donated to the City of Sydney the land on which the library was built. Katharine continued to support the library through the coordination of special events and the donation of many books over the years. Katharine also donated her father’s Louisbourg Collection. Many of her personal notes, journals, albums, and memorabilia were left to the library after her death.

Katharine's other philanthropic activities included supporting St. Patrick's Museum, the Glace Bay Miners Museum and donating anonymous gifts of scholarship money to deserving students. She also contributed to the Jewish Fund through the Temple Sons of Israel.


Katharine McLennan enjoying one of her famous picnics.

Katharine enjoys a friendly game of golf in the company of her friend, Helen Kendall. The game is being played at Beinn Breagh, the Cape Breton estate of Alexander Graham Bell.


Katharine's honourary Doctor of Laws which she received from St. Francis Xavier University in 1971.

In her lifetime, Katharine received many service awards and marks of distinction. Already mentioned was the Red Cross Service Award, but she was also awarded a medal from the King in commemoration of the Silver Jubilee in 1935. The library honored her in 1960 for her patronage over the years; the Miners Museum and the Sydney Centennial Commission offered her service awards; and the Business and Professional Women's Club of Sydney made Katharine an Honourary Member in 1967. However, the two greatest honors conferred on Katharine would come later in life.

In 1971, Katharine received an Honourary Doctor of Laws from St. Francis Xavier University. The citation on the degree calls Katharine "The First Lady of Louisbourg" and states that: "No one on this island of Cape Breton has done more to preserve the history of the two founding peoples in this part of Canada than Miss Katharine McLennan." Her greatest honor was received in 1972 when she entered the Order of Canada. Katharine's natural modesty, a trait she very much shared with her father, prompted her to first decline the award, but she was prevailed upon to accept the order and, in her 80th year, made the trip to Ottawa.

Katharine remained very active in her later years. Miss Mary Fraser recalls taking many road trips with Katharine, Helen Kendall, and Florence Mackley. The four would picnic along the road as they roamed Cape Breton in Katharine's Volvo. Helen Kendall was an immensely vibrant and energetic woman. She had been Katharine's life long friend and constant companion on these excursions and during holidays at Katharine's summer homes in Ben Eoin and Ingonish. Miss Fraser recalls Katharine and Helen as being "quite the pair". Though the two never lived together, they were quite inseparable. They constantly squabbled, much like sisters, but they were really close friends. Mrs. Ann Hussey (nee Donovan) of Ingonish , as a teenager, used to do housekeeping and other chores for Miss McLennan and Miss Kendall. Hillcrest, Katharine's Ingonish cabin, was close by Mrs. Hussey's childhood home. She recalls that they would arrive in Ingonish with little more than a picnic basket and Katharine's ever present Scotch mints, and realize they had forgotten something important. The two would fall to bickering, each blaming the other for forgetting the item.

Ingonish was very much a place for Katharine to forget her obligations at home. She did not welcome visitors from Sydney to Ingonish and would often leave Helen to entertain if any should arrive. Katharine would head off for a walk or sometimes even hide in the attic with a book until they left. This was definitely Katharine's place to get away and relax, enjoy her books, and garden. To Mrs. Hussey, Katharine often seemed to be quietly reflecting on something personal, perhaps her hopes for Louisbourg. Despite her full life and many accomplishments, one wonders if Katharine ever regretted not marrying and having children. Once asked by a man from Louisbourg why she never married, Katharine replied that her father had kept her too busy in her 20's to think about marriage. Also, Katharine was of the generation which had lost many of their young men in the War. Katharine's death in 1975, nearing age 83, was not totally unexpected as she had been experiencing health problems for some time. At the time of her death, Katharine's estate was worth $2,000,000. Her will contained generous settlements for her nieces and nephews, many personal bequests of furniture and jewelry to friends, and a large scholarship trust to be given to Sydney Academy.

Those who knew her remembered Katharine as having a gruff exterior, seemingly withdrawn from much personal contact. However, the more one knew her, the more apparent became her good-natured and generous side. With Katharine's death, the McLennans personal contributions to the area would end, but the effects of their work and generous support would continue. Louisbourg stands as a proud monument to the hard work of both JS and Katharine. The Cape Breton Regional Library is deeply indebted to Katharine for all her efforts to make the library what it is today. The Cape Breton Post owes its inception and its history of being the news source for Cape Breton to JS McLennan's high ideals. Katharine's many causes over the years undoubtedly fared better than they would have without her involvement. JS and Katharine were outstanding members of the Cape Breton community and outstanding citizens of this country. But these two were not the only McLennans to make contributions to society.

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Katharine received the Order of Canada in Ottawa in 1972.

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